Fox's Gotham follows teenage Bruce Wayne as he watches his beloved city fall into dark, gritty despair thanks to the rise of murderous crime bosses and nascent super villains. Though the series is set long before Bruce dons his iconic cape and cowl, Gotham introduces a number of young teens who will grow up to be some of Batman's fiercest enemies like the Joker and Catwoman. Until now, Gotham's kept its villains-to-be around the same age as Bruce. This week's episode, however, took an odd turn when it suddenly aged up and sexualized Poison Ivy.
As Ivy runs away from gangsters who mean to kill her, she's grabbed by a thug who can accelerate aging by touching someone. He throws Ivy into a water drain and days later, a now physically-adult Ivy drags herself out of the Gotham river with a mild case of amnesia. Luckily, a stranger comes by, offers to take her back to his place, and makes a point of telling her how beautiful she is.
In DC's comics, Pamela Isley is a botanical biochemist from Seattle who becomes the evil Poison Ivy after being trapped and experimented on by her sleazy colleague at a university. The experiments leave her with the power to manipulate all manners of plant life, immunity to nearly all toxins, and secrete mind-controlling pheromones. Like any sensible super villain, Ivy moves to Gotham where she becomes a deadly eco-terrorist who uses nature and her preternatural sex appeal to wreak all sorts of havoc.
Gotham's Ivy, on the other hand, was a kid portrayed by 15-year-old actress Clare Foley. Like her comic book counterpart, this Ivy was a redhead who loved plants and had a general disdain for people. But rather than letting her character organically develop into the her darker and more manipulative persona, Gotham essentially put her on the fast track to being a two-dimensional sex object.
Gotham executive producer Ken Woodruff told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month that the decision to recast the character was largely driven by the desire to explore one of Poison Ivy's most iconic abilities: her sex appeal.
"Everyone was much more comfortable with that with an older actress as opposed to a teenager. We want to explore that classic, canonical power of Ivy," Woodruff insisted. "When she's changed and transformed, there's a real character change as well."
True, it would have been creepy if Gotham had attempted to turn the child-like Ivy into a sexpot. But it's just as creepy (if not more so) to swap out a young actress in favor of grown woman just so her sensuality can be used as a plot device. It's important to remember that while Ivy's aged physically, mentally she's still very much a child. Essentially, Gotham's Ivy is a Lolita-like character made slightly more socially acceptable through a loophole.
What's really unfortunate about Ivy's transformation is that it cleaves to a very two-dimensional reading of her character that sees her as just another sexy woman who likes to commit crimes. In her recent run on Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death, writer Amy Chu took the basic elements of Ivy's personality (plants, sexiness, crime) and spun them into a unique take on the character explicitly designed to subvert the male gaze.
While Chu's Ivy is drawn as seductively as ever, the story gets her back to her roots in academia while also exploring the idea that human sexuality is a concept that Ivy is at odds with. During her panel discussion on women and sexuality in comics at this year's FlameCon, Chu described how she saw Ivy as a woman with stronger affinity to plants than humans and that the connection would likely extend to her relationship to sex. While other humans may see Ivy as sexually desirable, Chu explained, Ivy sees them as a completely different species.
“We all know she’s a highly sexual character and has been for 50 years,” Chu said. “So the challenge was, okay, we know she’s sexy, but what else is she?”
That's what makes Gotham's Ivy so disappointing—there doesn't seem to be much else to her but sex. Ivy's new actress Maggie Geha has been cast as a series regular, meaning that she could have a lot more screen time to turn her into something other than a walking, talking venus fly trap. If there's one thing DC comics has taught us about the city of Gotham, though, it's that you should never get your hopes up.